This week we have the pleasure of hearing from Andrew Warner. In his own words:
“For the first 3-4 years that I ran Mixergy, I never talked about MY story. I wanted Mixergy to be about helping YOU, not about ME. But ever since Neil Patel convinced me to talk about my businesses (and even show my financials), Mixergy took off and I connected with more people. So here goes.
Starting out in business
In my early 20s, my brother Michael and I started an internet company called Bradford & Reed. Michael is a clever developer and I’ve been a passionate salesman my whole life, so we teamed up. Our first product was an email newsletter. That business did okay, but Michael and I didn’t become entrepreneurs to just do “okay.”
So we tried a bunch of different ideas. One of them was online greeting cards. We started out creating our own cards, but we quickly realized that we didn’t have an eye for design. So we focused on what we knew best. Michael coded up a system that enabled designers to create shareable electronic greeting cards. And I went out and sold ads so we could generate revenue from those cards.
Hitting it big
Our revenue grew to over $1 million a month. I was in my mid-20s and Michael was still too young to rent a car on a business trip, but we made it. We were processing over 400,000 greeting cards per day. If you have access to traffic stats from around the year 2000, you’ll see that we were a top 25 property. (Here’s a chart showing Bradford & Reed as a #19 property in terms of traffic.)
Because we were so lean, Bradford & Reed grew beyond greeting cards into other internet businesses. It was fun. We were lucky to work with very smart people who were also our friends. The startup atmosphere of the company allowed us to keep experimenting with business ideas.
In 2003, I was burned out. I used to think that only wimps took breaks, so I foolishly worked nonstop until I couldn’t keep going. Michael and I sold the business’s properties. When I worked on Bradford & Reed, if anyone asked me, “what’s your exit strategy?” I proudly said, “death.” I wanted to be like my heroes in business, people like Sam Walton, Malcolm Forbes, and Warren Buffett who spent their whole lives building 1 company. But I didn’t have any more to give. So I had to move on.
Taking a break
In 2003, I gave away all my “stuff” and lived a simple life. After spending my 20s worrying — about salaries, whether the office was locked at night, what would happen if a server died just as our traffic spiked, etc — I wanted time without responsibilities or obligations.
I spent my days cycling. I devoured books. I read the Wall Street Journal cover-to-cover. (May not sound like fun to some people, but for me that was heaven.) And I traveled. Nothing extravagant, but it wasn’t. I kept it simple.”
The Slim Is Simple.org Non-Profit Nutrition Education Effort
Jonathan: Hey, everyone, Jonathan Bailor back with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim podcast. A very cool and unique show for you today. Today’s guest is just the man. I don’t know how many of the listeners are actually familiar with his work, so I brought him on the show to tell you his story. He’s got an amazing philosophy on life and an amazing track record to prove it, all at a very young age. Very passionate, he’s the CEO and founder of Mixergy.com. Andrew Warner, welcome to the show, brother.
Andrew: I wish that more people would know of my work. I hate that I’m a big guy in a small pool, and the pool is tiny. I’ve got to do something to get myself a bigger name in not just this space, but in the whole world. I don’t want to die a nobody here.
Jonathan: Before we get into what you want to do in the future, can you tell us a little bit about what you did in the past, in brief, your story, and then we’ll go from there.
Andrew: Sure. I had an online greeting card company where basically we did hundreds of thousands of greeting cards that were passed on our site from user to user. My brother and I built it, sold the company a few years ago. I took a lot of time off to just enjoy life, to do a lot of cycling, a little bit of running, and to just take off and travel. Then I started this site, Mixergy.com, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their companies. We go in-depth, how they got their first user, then their second user, how they got their first dollar, and so on.
Jonathan: One of the key reasons I wanted to bring you on the show, Andrew, is again, there’s not many people who create $30-plus million a year in sales businesses in their 20s. Then, when you hit that high point so early in life, it gives you the opportunity to take a step back and evaluate things that a lot of people don’t have the opportunity to do. What drove you to step back, and what did you realize upon stepping back?
Andrew: There was a period there where I thought I was going to lose it all, and I said, Oh, no, I always wanted to make a lot of money so I can go and date and women would finally find me interesting. I said, Oh, if this whole thing goes away, I’m never going to get to do that. I’m never going to go learn how to date; I’m never going to go learn how to have fun; I’m never going to learn to do any of this stuff that I was going to be a billionaire and then go do on the high level.
Then I said, All right, if I can ever recover, I will go and do those things; I’ll figure out how to do them. I did recover; it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, though it was pretty dangerous there for a while. That’s when I said, Screw it; I’m going to go out there and I’m going to try to do some of the things I always wished I could do. I remember seeing this picture in some magazine of a guy riding his bike in the middle of nowhere, and I thought, That looks like such a liberating experience, just alone with your thoughts and activity to keep you busy; but I could never do that. Well, I got to do stuff like that. That’s what drove me and that’s what I ended up doing with all that opportunity.
Jonathan: Obviously, you focus on a business-based entrepreneurial space in which so many people focus on getting in to get out. You focus now much more on being mission-driven and having a calling. For people who aren’t — crazy is the wrong word — very driven, type-A personalities that will build empires, how can those individuals also embrace that passion and live with that mission and calling?
Andrew: I think it’s a matter of trying a bunch of different things, see what interests you, and then sticking with that thing even when it’s boring, even when it’s challenging, even when you just feel like it’s the biggest mistake you ever made. Stick with it until you master it.
For me, with interviews, there were so many times when I said, I’m not good on camera; and I stuck with doing those interviews. I said, No one’s watching these freaking things; and I kept doing those interviews. I said, I stink at getting people to answer questions because my questions go on forever; I still stuck with it.
Today, I have a big audience; they’re paying to listen to my interviews, in many cases; and I’m getting to interview the people whom I admire. It’s about trying a bunch of things, finding one that works, and sticking with it even when most people would give up, even when it feels a little bit boring or uninteresting or you feel like you’re a failure at it.
Jonathan: When you say finding one that works, do you use that like more of an internal barometer, like, This is feeling satisfying; while the external world may not be recognizing it, it feels satisfying to me. Are you looking external as well? Are you doing both? Which one are you looking at?
Andrew: I think it’s both. For me with Mixergy, it just feels right because I had an opportunity to say, What feels right is what I want to do. With the first company, I said, Where the hell’s the money? And I just kept trying everything until I found something that people cared enough about that I could make money with, and that’s what we kept at.
Jonathan: How important do you think dedicating yourself — obviously, you think of the whole mission thing — but really bringing it down to earth, saying dedicating yourself to something larger than yourself, is that liberating, is that intimidating? How would you best characterize it?
Andrew: It’s both. I mean, I remember saying that I want to do my interviews so that someone in the audience will listen to them, use them, and then build a successful company based on it. I thought, Whoa, now you’re admitting that publicly; if that never happens, if no one ever listens to you except for a few frenemies, then they’re going to laugh at you, maybe behind your back, maybe with your friends, maybe even to your face, and it’s just you’re going to be not just a failed guy at this interview thing, but a laughingstock that people feel pity for. So in that sense, it’s intimidating.
In the other sense I can say, Well, yeah, this is tough but there’s someone out there who I’m helping. Like doing this interview with you. I’m kind of exhausted now, but I’m here thinking, There’s got to be one person out there who is going to be listening. That’s a bigger mission than anything else, and a bigger reason to keep going and doing this interview than will someone come to my site and buy. So that’s keeping me going.
I could give up. If I didn’t have that mission, I could say, You know what? Maybe Jonathan’s not going to send anyone over to my site and no one’s going to buy. Eh, I don’t really have that much to sell on the site, what the hell’s the point, and move on. But if I feel like there’s a bigger mission, then I’ll do this even for that one person, that one person who I know is listening right now who is saying, I agree with Andrew right from the start where he said he wanted to do something bigger than he’s done already and I see what he’s driving for. I am like that, too. No one else gets me but I feel like Andrew and I are similar. That’s the person who I want to reach, and that’s the power of having a bigger mission.
Jonathan: You used the word, I believe, brilliance in there, and it inspired me when thinking you also talk about building a company. Well, what are some of the things, Andrew, you found, strategies traditionally used to build companies which can also be used to build a brilliant life?
Andrew: I do think that consistency matters. How many people do you know who start one thing and then go to the next and go to the next and never complete it? It’s easy to do that at work. There’s so many opportunities, I could’ve jumped on with Mixergy and as soon as I landed at one, I could’ve moved on to the next one, and another one would’ve come along that’s even better. The same thing even outside of work. I run marathons, both organize marathons and I run marathons on my own in the street where I go into local bodegas and I buy bottles of water to keep myself going on these 26-plus mile runs. I could never have done it if I would’ve started running and then said, Hey, you know what? Maybe I should take up basketball, too; and maybe I should also go and try rowing. No. I stick with it.
Almost every day, I go out for a run. Actually, I’d say at this point, it’s more days than not I go out for a run; and I keep at it and I keep doing it. There are times early on where I said, I’m not a runner, I can’t even do three miles; I should give up. Or there would be times where I said, My knees hurt so badly, I wasn’t meant to do this, and I wanted to move on, and I was worried that I would be a quitter, but I stuck with it.
You know what? There are solutions for knees. There are solutions for having a bad day. There are things you could do. So by sticking with it, I found those solutions. Today I get to enjoy running so much that — I had a really tough day yesterday. I did so much work and I was exhausted and I’ve been feeling a little bit out of it this week because of all the work that I did, but I went out for a run this morning, and I ran in to the office, and I felt great doing it.
Jonathan: Andrew, so much of what you’re talking about: being courageous, having this persistence, dedicating your life to a compelling mission; this can be terrifying, at least I’ve found. The spectrum of highs and lows you experience; how do you deal with that? Because when you are this focused and this driven, when stuff is clicking, Oh, man, you’re at 11 out of 10. But when you’ve committed all of yourself to one brilliant mission and things seem to be veering off track, man, you’re at a zero. How do you deal with those peaks and valleys?
Andrew: I like to have one other thing that I do, one other thing outside of work, one other big thing that feeds my confidence. I’ve talked about this before, that when work stinks and I have a good run, I feel great about myself. I feel more accomplished because I had a great run.
I think you need to just find that one other thing. I told you that I was dating. I was dating full-time. I didn’t have a job, I didn’t have anywhere to get up and go do anything. I would wake up in the morning, I would go to the gym or go cycle all day or go sit in a coffee shop and read a book or by the beach and read whatever. And then sometime around maybe six or seven o’clock, I’d go out and have dinner with someone, or drinks, then dinner, then go out somewhere.
And that would be where my day really started. I focused on it and I wanted to date, but there were nights and weeks maybe where I just kept getting shot down, where the girls who were into me, I wasn’t into, and it made me wonder, Who am I drawing; what’s wrong with me that I’m not drawing the women that I want to me.
I could really have felt bad for myself and really have spiraled down, but because I had – at the time, I was big on cycling. When I would go for a long bike ride and do something like 60 miles for the day, I couldn’t feel bad about myself. I felt, Wow, I never got to do that before. That’s an amazing experience. So there’s something in me that will get over other difficulties. And if that happens in cycling, I can get over these difficulties in dating.
One other thing. That’s it. We need to focus on what we’re extremely passionate about and not allow ourselves to get diverted, I think, anyway. This is the way that works for me. And then have one little thing on the side that will fire us up when we feel like we can’t get that big focus, the big thing we’re focused on.
Jonathan: That thing on the side, you mentioned cycling. I know a lot of people, myself included, something physical or something maybe more importantly that you have complete control over; because often that other big thing, you don’t have control over. A lot of people really like cycling or resistance training because there’s no politics. You either get on the bike or you don’t. You don’t have to wait for someone to show up and throw you the ball. You just lift the barbell, right? It’s all on you.
Jonathan: Yes, do that. I love it, I love it. Andrew, what do you think the role of family and deep relationships are to a person who is living this very deliberate mission?
Andrew: For me, it’s an escape from the mission, but it’s also a support of the mission. I love that my wife will push me to do the things that I care about. I used to think if you got into a relationship, you were going to get distracted from work; if you were married, then it meant that that’s it, you could never stay at the office late, you could never really focus on your work because you would always have to be back and pay attention to someone.
The nice part about being married – and Olivia and I haven’t been married that long – but the nice part is that there’s a support system there. There’s someone who, if I wake up in the middle of the night freaking out about something that I said on mic or something that I didn’t do at work, there’s someone there to just bring me back to my sensibilities. If there’s something that I need to do and I’m not pushing myself enough, it’s nice to have someone there to say, Remember what you stand for; remember what you care about.
Jonathan: In terms of next steps, obviously, you have a very clear vision, you’re a very driven individual. Where do you see yourself in 10 years, 20 years, or do you even think that far in the future?
Andrew: I do, without tremendous clarity. My goal is to leave a legacy. The people who I admired didn’t die when they died. Their ideas lived on and, in a sense, they got to continue living on. That is what I would like. I think after doing all these interviews and after talking to my audience and after exploring my own interests and my own ideas, I think I’ve got something that can help me leave that legacy.
What I’ve noticed is a problem that comes up a lot with my audience of entrepreneurs where we know what we need to do – and maybe you do, Jonathan; maybe the person who’s listening to us feels this way, too – we know what we need to do, but we somehow don’t get it done. Maybe it’s making phone calls, maybe it’s doing that writing for our blog or writing that book, or even running.
We know what we need to do, but something’s keeping us from doing it. It’s tempting to say what I used to say to myself back — the greeting-card company started with me writing all the content. I remember there were days when I didn’t write anything and I’d beat myself up, Why am I procrastinating, why am I not a good writer, and so on. It wasn’t that I was a procrastinator, it wasn’t that I didn’t want it enough, it wasn’t that I wasn’t living up to whatever potential I had; it was that there was something going on in my head that if I could have addressed it directly, I would have eliminated all my procrastination, all my distractions. This part of me is what I want to explore, because I’ve noticed that other people have that, too.
Jonathan: Andrew, the idea of just doing the emails, doing the work, doing the actual work, it’s been my observation that it’s very easy, especially in the internet age, to spend a lot of time doing “virk,” or virtual work, which is reading about how to cycle rather than actually cycling; or talking with people about how to cycle versus actually cycling. Not that you would never want to do those things, you need to do those things; but what do you find to be the balance of doing versus talking about doing?
Andrew: I’ll give you an example away from business so that everyone can hopefully relate to this, but it applies exactly to business, too. There was a time when I looked down at my belly and I said, Why is this thing growing, I have no excuses, I’m in Argentina, living here to get away from all the distractions. And I said to myself, I have time to run, I have room, with no distractions; why am I not running?
Then I finally stopped feeling bad about myself, stopped feeling like I was a procrastinator and said, I see what it is. I have all these negative thoughts linked up with running, like running is tough, running takes too long, I am not a runner, other people are runners. That is what kept me from running. Not that I was a procrastinator, but that I somehow linked up these thoughts with it.
When I questioned it, I said, Is running really boring? I realized no, I actually enjoy running. I don’t enjoy other sports, but I do enjoy running. I said, Well, am I not a runner? And I thought, Well, I’ve been running, and really, what does it take to be a runner? You just have to run.
Is it difficult to start? No. Basically I examined these thoughts that were keeping me from running. I call them Counter Mind thoughts. Anything I want to do, there’s a part of me that just counters it. It’s like an annoying roommate; it’s just in my head and will counter everything I want to do. So once I recognized it, it lost its power. Once I questioned it, it really reduced its power to almost nothing.
Then I said, Okay, if those aren’t true, if those Counter Mind thoughts aren’t true, then what is true? That’s when I realized, ah-hah, I love running. Running feeds my energy; running gives me this runner’s high; running makes me feel free. I actually feel free of worries, free of obligations when I’m running. There’s nothing else I can do, so I just focus on the running. I call those True Mind thoughts. These are just phrases that I made up for myself so that I could be aware of what I’m talking about with my wife.
I said, All right, how often do I live these True Mind thoughts that running makes me feel free, for example? I realized, hardly ever. All I think about was Counter Mind thoughts when I thought about running, and that’s why I didn’t run. So I came up with ways to just train myself to remember these True Mind thoughts like running makes me feel free.
Once I did that, that’s when I started to run. I ran a marathon in Argentina. I came back and lived in Washington D.C. for a bit; I ran the Marine Corps Marathon there. I ran a marathon on the streets on my own without any outside support. Then I did over 30 miles on my own. That’s the thing. A person listening to me, maybe one person has this self-awareness, that when he or she sits down to write, there are these Counter Mind thoughts that say, Writing is too hard, I don’t know what I’m supposed to say, I’m not a writer, other people are writers; I read that Stephen King wrote even when he was a kid, I didn’t do that. Those are the Counter Mind thoughts that are making you procrastinate. You can feel bad about yourself for procrastinating, or you can start to recognize that this part of your head, that Counter Mind, is what’s screwing you up. Once you do that, you can address the real problem.
That goes for everything. Why are you not making those phone calls that you want to make? Notice the Counter Mind thoughts. Why are you not speaking up, why are you not running? Why are you not doing all those things that you want to do? Recognize those Counter Mind thoughts and I think you’ll be amazed.
Jonathan: Andrew, that is just pure gold. I so appreciate your time and insight. Folks, his name is Andrew Warner. You can learn much more about him at his wildly successful website, Mixergy.com. Andrew, to close, what’s next for you short-term?
Andrew: Thank you for saying that. It is wildly successful. For me, short-term is we’re going to start to have more people over to the house. I moved to San Francisco so that I could be closer to the Entrepreneur’s Way interview. We got a nice place here, and Olivia and I are going to start to invite more people over, have good brunches, have scotch nights, dinner nights, and really get to know them in person.
Jonathan: Love it. Again, folks, please get to know Andrew – not so much in person, but digitally. Again, Mixergy.com. Andrew, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much, brother.
Andrew: Thanks for having me on.
Jonathan: Listeners, I hope you enjoyed today’s show as much as I did. Please remember, this week and every week after, eat smarter, exercise smarter, and live better. Chat with you soon.
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